It is hard to understand why anyone would bet against Lewis Hamilton winning a third Formula 1 world championship in 2015.
That may be a bold statement given that we are just four races in to the new season, but frankly, there appears to be little that can stop the Briton this year. He has three wins already under his belt and is in the form of his life. Right now, he’s on another planet to the rest of the grid.
It is sensational to witness: man and machine working in perfect harmony. We are looking at a domination of the sport comparable to that of Michael Schumacher with Ferrari or Sebastian Vettel with Red Bull – one driver and one team standing out from the rest.
It may not seem like a very impressive feat, given that in all three cases the drivers have been in the one outstanding car of that period. However, the way in which they all outfoxed and defeated their teammates is fascinating.
Rubens Barrichello was always the number two at Ferrari, of course. However, he never stood out to make it otherwise. Even if he were to retain the wins that he was forced to give up by Ferrari to help Schumacher, the German was still on another level.
Mark Webber’s defeat to Vettel at Red Bull was more complex, though. Had the Australian won the 2010 world title, the next three years may have been very different. Instead, Sebastian went on a streak that made clear who the number one driver was at Milton Keynes. Webber stood no chance of winning the title in 2011, even when in the same dominant car. He eventually ailed to third in the championship.
Rosberg is going down a similar path to Webber – coming close to winning the title, standing no chance the following year – because Hamilton has out-thought him and outplayed him. Right now, the German driver is doing all he can to score pole positions and race wins, but continues to fall short. He hasn’t come close to beating Lewis this year, in truth.
But Bahrain proved that there is still some fight in Rosberg, even if he lost out to Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the race and finished in third place. He had the spark that has been lacking ever since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, and showed it simply by making a few overtakes during the race.
Because that has been Nico’s problem. He hasn’t made any big moves, only appearing to go backwards during races (typically behind his teammate). When he became boxed in behind Vettel at the start in Bahrain and lost a position to Raikkonen, it seemed to be the same old story. Rosberg looked resigned to fourth place.
He fought back though. The German told NBCSN earlier in the week that he had been studying the footage of his battle with Hamilton in the 2014 race in the event of a repeat this year. Although he did not need the knowledge to fight the Briton, Rosberg did pull some very good moves on both Vettel and Raikkonen throughout the race, running them deep into the first corner to deny them the cut back and a run on the straight heading up to turn four. Clearly, his revision paid off.
In all, Rosberg made three passes on Vettel – one at the start, one after his first stop and another after his second stop – and one on Raikkonen on lap four. Four overtakes may not seem like much, but the manner in which he did it proved the fight he has. He wasn’t willing to sit behind them for too long and allow Hamilton to scamper away. It’s a big positive that Rosberg can take from the weekend.
It didn’t end happily, though, as Raikkonen was able to pass with ease on the penultimate lap of the race and take second place at the flag. Rosberg was defenceless thanks to a brake issue, but this should not detract from the Finn’s achievement. The result marked his first podium finish since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, and proved that his 2014 form was a blip, not the start of a steady decline.
Raikkonen’s motivation is regularly questioned due to his monosyllabic and reclusive nature. His return to Ferrari last year was a disappointment, as he finished 12th in the drivers’ championship, leading many to deem that he wasn’t the same man that had won the team its last title back in 2007. Quite clearly though, with the right car underneath him – just as we have seen with Vettel this year – he still has that drive.
Interestingly, it was Vettel who was used by Ferrari to bluff Mercedes into pitting Rosberg early. The plan had been to put the German on the same strategy as Raikkonen – option-prime-option – had been stayed in front of Rosberg. The team moved him onto ‘plan B’ – option-option-prime – to force Mercedes to pit both of its drivers early and avoid losing out on the undercut.
All the while, Raikkonen was able to go about his business and capitalize when on options in the final stint. For a team that has been blunder-prone in the past few seasons, Ferrari has turned a corner strategically this year.
Hamilton may have been the star under the lights in Bahrain, but it was Rosberg and Raikkonen who made the big statements on Sunday. The fight between Ferrari and Mercedes is set to define this season, and although the chips are stacked firmly in the latter’s favor, we could be in for some fascinating battles in 2015.